Monthly Archives: December 2015

Advent-ures

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We’ve been burning the candle at both ends lately in the lead up to Christmas.

We finally got our tree decorated last Friday:IMG_7586.jpg…and put out a few more decorations, just in time for an evening get together with some dear old friends.

IMG_7612.jpgThe next day my daughter had friends of her own over to decorate cookies. IMG_7590.jpgThe final products were charming:

IMG_7604.jpg…in a rather surreal sort of way!IMG_7606.jpgThe boys had fun decorating cookies of their own with a “Ninjabread Cookie Kit”:IMG_7601.jpgIMG_7614.jpg

On Sunday we headed up to Arlington. That evening my friend Victoria and I went to a Mount Vernon by Candlelight tour:

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We sang Christmas carols all the way back to her house, where we ended the evening by lighting her Advent wreath:

IMG_7659.jpgIMG_7662.jpgOn Monday, the kids and I went over to my friend Janel’s house, where we decorated more cookies, sang more Christmas carols, and even caught a glimpse of Santa as he cruised through Rockville, MD on a fire truck!

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I got to have lunch with this sweet friend today:

Afternoon tea at the St. Regis with my friendy Wendy:

And dinner with my family at an old favorite, Jang Won Korean Chinese Restaurant in Annandale:

Tomorrow we hit the road to head to Princeton, where we’ll be spending Christmas with the rest of my family.

Weekend Snapshots 32

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Friday

A friend from my high school days came for a visit this weekend…

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Back in the day, Victoria and I shared a locker, worked on plays together, and sang duets in the hallways after late night rehearsals when everyone else had gone home. It was a sad day for me when she left Yorktown High School to go back to her beloved Waldorf school. She knew back then that she wanted to be a Waldorf teacher, and that’s exactly what she is today.

She speaks so passionately and eloquently about the beautiful, organic way she teaches her students, it makes me sad to have never had that kind of educational experience myself. From our conversations I got the sense that the marking of time and the observance of cycles is an important part of a Waldorf education. I heard her casually mention terms I’d only ever read before, like Michaelmas and winter solstice. One of the first things she asked me when she walked into my house was, “Where’s all your advent stuff?!”

Ummm…in a box buried under other boxes deep in the bowels of my basement maybe?

OK, so we’re not entirely ready for Christmas, but we did go to my husband’s early music ensemble Christmas concert…

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The photo reminds me of an article I forwarded to my very tall husband this weekend. It summarizes the finding of researchers at Konkuk University in Korea, who conclude that for a woman, the greater the height differential with her husband, the happier she is in her marriage. The effect, however, entirely dissipates after 18 years of marriage, which is exactly how long we’ve been married. But hey! This shortie is still happy after 18 years of marriage with her giant of a husband!

After the concert, my friend and I stayed up late into the night, chatting and folding and glueing stars together from special kite paper she brought, because that’s the kind of thing that happens when you hang with a Waldorf teacher!

Saturday

My friend Katherine came over for lunch and we played with our food!

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Peeling a massive Korean pear in one piece…

Did you know there’s a little bunny inside every peanut?

And a star in every apple?

Katherine left with a gift from Victoria:

Victoria and I made a quick trip to Charlottesville’s Downtown Mall…

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IMG_7517Sunday

I found some pictures on my camera that I didn’t recognize. My early-rising son had captured this gorgeous sunrise.

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The gift that keeps on giving:

My children and I sang in the choir for the candlelight Lessons and Carols service, which means that the Christmas season is now officially upon us.

For the first year ever, we, or rather I‘ve decided to have a real live tree that we can plant after Christmas. We got it at this magical place just down the road from where we live:

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Behold our adorable chubby little Baby Blue Colorado Spruce:

Now if only we could get motivated to actually decorate it!

Jook & Jeju Island

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This is what we’ve been eating almost every day for breakfast (and sometimes lunch and dinner too!) since Thanksgiving.

I tried jook aka congee aka rice porridge for the first time sixteen years ago in a hotel in Jeju Island. I had never tasted it as a child. My mother never cooked it, because my father wouldn’t touch the stuff. He’s probably the unfussiest eater I know, but jook reminds him too much of the thin gruel he had to eat as a malnourished child growing up in war-ravaged Korea.

As for me, the taste of jook was a revelation – a mellow, homey, cozy dish that tastes like a warm hug from someone you love. I have dreamt about it all these many years. I don’t know why it took me so long to finally try to make it, because it’s dead simple, really. It’s the perfect winter comfort food. It would make a great baby food, because it’s so easily digested. In fact, it’s sometimes fed to convalescents, because it’s so mild. Finally, it’s an easy way to use up the remains of a Thanksgiving turkey or a rotisserie chicken, bones and all. Have I convinced you? I’ll share the recipe with you at the end of this post, but first – Jeju Island.

I lived in Korea from the age of 8 months to about 3 years. About 16 years ago, my parents took me back to Korea for the first time since we moved back to the U.S.  We visited Jeju Island, a tropical island off the southern coast of Korea with dramatic lava formations, gardenia bushes taller than humans, and citrus and palm trees. It’s the traditional honeymoon destination for Koreans and a favorite vacation spot. Dutch sailors are known to have shipwrecked on the island in the 17th century. This perhaps explains why there is a distinctive, more Caucasian look to people from Jeju Island. My mother’s family has roots here. Her maternal grandfather owned a factory there that capitalized on its natural resources; it produced buttons made out of shells and canned sea food for export to China.

We traveled all over the island in a rickety old tour bus hung with ratty floral curtains of indeterminate vintage. Our tour guide told us that Jeju Island is famous for three abundances – wind, rocks, and women.

At a Stone Sculpture Garden, we saw plenty of rocks:

and creative depictions of the culture of the Jeju of old…

The Dol Harubang is the symbol of Jeju Island. They were carved out of the plentiful black volcanic rock and strategically placed around the island to scare off demons or invaders.

With their suggestive shape, they are also considered a symbol of fertility. Rub the nose for a boy, or an ear for a girl.

During the Joseon Dynasty, Jeju was used as a penal colony for political exiles and as a place for horse-breeding. One of the stops on our tour took us to a horse ranch. While all the other chump tourists donned doofy looking hats and red vests to ride, I settled myself on a comfy bench next to my mother, and prepared to watch.

My mother nudged me and said, “I think you should ride.” (N.B. – She did not suggest that we should ride).

“Hunh?! Really?” I asked, “Why?!”

“When else will you have a chance to ride a horse?”

I’ve never been a horse person. In fact, horses scare me. I had had opportunities to ride before, but had always declined them. My mother’s suggestion that I ride, delivered so earnestly and with a slight undercurrent of urgency, was so surprising to me that I, as if under a spell, got up off the bench and suited up. No matter that I was wearing a long sundress and had never been on a horse in my life, my mother’s wish was my command.

The horses lined up for what I thought would be an easy amble around the track.

Suddenly, a scrawny man in a wife beater rode up on a moped, and started blowing a whistle. The horses took off running:

I clung to the horse’s back as we whipped around the track. I miraculously managed to stay on my horse, but the next day I felt like I had been hurled down ten flights of stairs and had then been trampled by an angry mob all wearing soccer cleats.

“Moooom! I’m like a sack of broken bones. I can barely walk!”

My mother complacently listened to me complain about the pain for days.

The most illuminating discovery for me was that Jeju Island is known for its strongly matriarchal social structure, which is unusual for Korea. The women of Jeju Island are famous for their strength, indomitable spirit, and iron wills. Another revelation which explained so much!

Our tour guide explained to us how this social structure came to be. Men who fell out of favor with the king were banished to this tropical island paradise. And then – oh, the cruelty! – they were forbidden to work. Instead, they were forced to sit back and watch their spouses work. The women became “pearl divers” or haenyeo. These women were mythologized as mermaids:

…but in fact, diving is a hard and dangerous job. You can still see haenyeo bobbing around in the ocean these days, but the profession is dying out with the last of the elderly women who practice it. For centuries, the women have dived underwater for minutes at a time with no breathing apparatus.

We probably ate some of their catch at one of the restaurants we went to:

Waitresses kept bringing plate after plate until the long low table we were seated at was covered with seafood. Some of the seafood arrived at the table ablaze; many of the dishes were so fresh, that the creatures were still wriggling. As uncultured as it may seem, I couldn’t eat a thing and had to avert my gaze for the entire meal.

Luckily for me, I was filling up every morning with jook, a daily staple of the breakfast buffet at the Hyatt Regency:

Jook

Ingredients:

1 cup rice

6 cups water or broth

1 turkey or chicken carcass, bones and any leftover meat

Sesame oil

Soy sauce

Roasted, salted seaweed

Scallions sliced thin

Bring to a boil the rice, water/broth, and the turkey or chicken carcass. Lower heat and simmer for about an hour. Remove as many bones as possible. (I can never manage to get them all out, but the kids have become adept at discreetly fishing them out while eating). Put in a dash of sesame oil and a dash of soy sauce. Sprinkle a little seaweed and scallions on top. That’s my bare bones version, but the possibilities are endless. The hotel restaurant had lots of other things you could sprinkle on top such as shredded marinated beef and abalone.

 

Weekend Snapshots 31

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Saturday

If you look down at your feet and it looks like this:

…you know it’s time for the Frostbite Soccer Tournament!

My daughter’s soccer team wasn’t participating in the two-day Tournament, but she and her friend were guest players for another team.

Later that evening it was time for my son’s piano recital:

I sang with him on his second piece – Georgia on My Mind.

Sunday

We discovered that our pups were in our local weekly paper!

My industrious dogs never take a break from their labors…Here they are demonstrating their foot warming skills:

Back to business! Round 2 of the Frostbite Tournament…

A second place finish for the gold team…

Aaaaaand that’s a wrap!

Puppy Love

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This is Chloe (black and white) and her brother Tallis (white and cream).

I have a confession to make…

These dogs do not make my heart go pitter-patter.

That is not to say that they have not inspired some intense emotions in me. For example, I am insanely jealous of them every morning when I head out to work and they are busily engaged in their usual activity:

I’ll admit that it used to amuse me to dress them up occasionally:

And to take photos of them, dripping like wet dishrags in the arms of my children:

Objectively, I can see that they’re really cute dogs:

But don’t let those cute faces fool you. They are the worst kind of troublemakers. Every time I dare to hope that they’re finally coming around, I am proven wrong. Whenever I forget myself and make the mistake of praising the dogs or expressing any kind of affection towards them, my son has to warn me:

“STOP!!! What are you doing?! Every time you say anything nice about them, they do something really terrible!”

It’s true. Well past puppyhood, they are still not 100% housebroken. They pee on the rugs. They’ve peed on my new-ish couch, which necessitated the purchase of even newer, super expensive pee-free cushions. They’ve chewed up woodwork. They’ve eaten poop. They’ve eaten rocks…yes, rocks.

One of my sisters described the dogs as devoid of any personality. Another sister used the word “blobby” to capture their essence.

I’m going to be painfully honest here. The three of us never really clicked…until this weekend.

I gained a whole new appreciation for them over the Thanksgiving holiday. They were exceedingly tolerant of all my nieces and nephews, who expressed their love for them vigorously and relentlessly.

They even earned their keep by “working” at a “Puppies and Pumpkins” event for international students who were staying in Charlottesville over the Thanksgiving break:

Their blobbiness magically transformed into an asset!

In appreciation, I rained lavish sweet nothings upon their furry little heads. I fed them bits of ham. I gave them massages. Chloe wriggled with pleasure. She gazed up into my eyes with adoration…and promptly showered the floor with a gallon of pee.

More about my two miscreants in these posts:

Cute, but Rotten Pt. 1

Cute, but Rotten Pt. 2

My Genius Dogs

Dogs in America

Art Bee

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My sister said to me this weekend, “You’re always getting a bee in your bonnet.”

She’s absolutely right, of course.

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, the bee du jour, my abeille of the day was a family art project.

Almost everybody donned an old, beloved sweatshirt of mine to protect their clothes from paint splatter. That sweatshirt has been one of my prized possessions since middle school!

The adults painted too:

Last, but not least, my dad and mom added the finishing touches to our family masterpiece:

I’m all abuzz! I think it’s beautiful!